Let's face it straight away: no one among American cinema fans would be so crazy as to underestimate or diminish the absolute charm of a pilgrimage visit to Hollywood, and more precisely to the sensational Universal Studios: I, who am not an ultra-fan of the stars and stripes cinema, have no difficulty in admitting that a tour of the West Coast without a Los Angeles stop at the Studios would have been a missed opportunity.
But not everyone knows that, in Florida and more precisely in Orlando, there is a valid alternative to the most famous theme park in California: Universal Orlando Resort, better known as Universal Studios Orlando. The biggest difference with the original concerns the tour itself film studios, a not indifferent detail which obviously establishes the qualitative and substantial difference between the two parks. However, Universal Studios Orlando it has a lot to offer (starting with its size, much larger than the original) and still makes an excellent figure among Orlando's parks.
As we know, the parks in this area are one of the top reasons for a Florida tour, and every amusement park lover calls this city a sort of Mecca to visit at least once in a lifetime. It could therefore be missing, on the amazing International Drive, between water parks and theme parks of all kinds, a branch of the theme park dedicated to the most famous cinema in the world?
- What is Universal Orlando?
- How to get to Universal Studios Orlando?
- Universal City Walk: the antechamber of fun!
- Universal Studios Florida, the cinema experience
- The attractions
- The shows
- Universal Islands of Adventure, tra Harry Potter, Hulk e Popeye…
- The attractions
- The shows
- Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure?
- How to skip the lines at attractions?
- How many days to visit Universal Orlando?
- Universal Orlando tickets: how to choose them?
- How to visit Universal Orlando from Miami?
- Universal Orlando: where to sleep?
What is Universal Orlando?
Opened in 1990, Universal Orlando Resort is the second largest park in all of Orlando and includes two different theme parks: Universal Studios Florida e Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The two areas are independent as regards the concept and each requires a separate ticket but, as we will see, there are advantageous packages if you want to visit both. At the turn of the 2 parks, a new thematic area has been inserted entirely dedicated to Harry Potter, which reproduces the sets of Hogsmeade (in Universal's Islands of Adventure) and Diagon Alley (in Universal Studios). An area dedicated to the most famous magician in the world has also been inserted in the Hollywood counterpart in California, albeit smaller in size and limited to the Hogsmeade area.
In 2017, a new Universal water theme park was opened, Volcano bay, which replaces the previous Wet 'n Wild Orlando, which was located a little outside the park boundaries. However, if your interest is cinema, it will certainly not attract your attention, so let's find out how visit Universal Orlando.
How to get to Universal Studios Orlando?
Located just 8 miles from the giant DisneyWorld Orlando, Universal orlando is located at the following address, of which I also report the exact position with the coordinates for the GPS:
Theme Parks & CityWalk Parking Garage
6000 Universal Boulevard
Orlando, FL 32819
Following this address you will arrive at the Universal Orlando parking area, where your tour of the park will begin. The daily cost of parking is not included in the entrance ticket and depends on the chosen area; here are the rates:
- Prime Parking: $35
- Regular Parking: $25
- RV/Bus Parking: $30
If you want to avoid paying for parking you can choose to stay in hotels on International Drive, many of which offer a very convenient free transfer service to the park.
Universal City Walk: the antechamber of fun!
The first area you will encounter is Universal City Walk, a pleasant boulevard that anticipates the atmosphere of the park, where you can drink, eat, shop and get lost in the nightlife: a walk along a boulevard overlooked by shops, restaurants, clubs, theaters (including the exciting Blue Man Group, which can be bought separately) and an IMAX multiplex cinema, a scenario quite similar to Hollywood Studios, all things considered. At this point, unlike the Los Angeles park, however, you will have to make a choice: take the road to Universal Studios Florida or go to Universal’s Island of Adventure?
Are you already in panic? Do not worry, in the next two paragraphs I will illustrate you what to expect from one and the other, so as to facilitate your choice or ... to make it more difficult!
Universal Studios Florida, the cinema experience
Let's start with Universal Studios Florida, which similarly traces the map of Universal Studios Hollywood, favoring the experience of 3D rides. The park is divided into a series of evocative thematic areas that contain rides, shows and in which it is very pleasant to walk:
- Production Central
- New York
- San Francisco
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley
- World Expo
- Springfield: Home of the Simpsons
- Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone
Let's start with the most important news of recent years (also for Universal Los Angeles): The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. As an old fan of Rowlings' novels, I admit I'm not lucid, but for me this attraction (limiting definition, being a whole section of the park) alone is worth the price of the Universal Studios Florida ticket.
The reconstruction of the world of the wizard is impressive: the magical atmosphere of Diagon Alley it is tangible and there is Ollivander's workshop (which will show you how wands choose their wizards and not the other way around)! You can also do a remarkable 3D ride: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, a breathtaking chase through the tunnels and dungeons of the most famous bank in the wizarding world. Spend some time in this section of the park, pop into the Weasleys 'Wizard Wheezes (Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes) shop, sip some butterbeer and take the time for a little detour into Knockturn Alley. But that's not all: know that many other attractions related to the wizarding world (Howgarts and Hogsmeade) are in the other park, which you can get to with the Hogwarts Express (accessible only to those with tickets for both parks). To clarify, we have written a detailed guide entirely dedicated to Harry Potter park in Orlando.
In addition to the magical world of Harry Potter, there is still a lot more to do. Go to the section Production Central: there are the 3D rides of the California Universal Studios. It is worth mentioning the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem (hilarious 3D Despicable Me experience), and TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D, one of the most successful. Universal's parks, nevertheless that of Orlando, also rely heavily on the 4D experience of Shrek, where touch and smell are also involved.
In the other sections of the park you will find the thriller shades of the classic The revenge of the Mummy, the surreal and fun interactive experience of MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack, the 3d laughs at the Simpson, the carousel of Jimmy Fallon (a high-speed race between the most important attractions in New York and beyond, get ready for a space trip!) and the one dedicated to Fast & Furious, an adrenaline-pumping chase involving cars, motorcycles, trucks, and even bulldozers. There Woody Woodpeckers’s Kidzone instead it is completely dedicated to the little ones, with shows and rides suitable for children.
Some shows take place freely on the street, while for others you will have to enter special rooms. I point out the concert-show Blues Brothers Show (a fan of the film can't miss it!), the show Fear Factory Live, to see the most talented stuntmen in action, and Horror Make-up Show, to find out how the scariest special effects are made. Instead, the animal actors have their own stage on the show Animal Actors on Location. Throughout the park and especially in the cities with the reconstructed views of New York e San Francisco you can find restaurants, fast-food restaurants and shops, where you can refresh yourself and spend the little time you have left after the rides and shows.
Universal Islands of Adventure, tra Harry Potter, Hulk e Popeye…
The fact that we talk about it later does not mean that it is a second tier theme park, far from it! The choice between the two parks is difficult, because also Universal Islands of Adventure is heavily focused on cinematic-themed attractions and more than differentiate itself from Universal Studios Florida rather it represents its natural extension (it is no coincidence that in both parks there are attractions also present at Universal Studios in Hollywood). Also here you will find the complementary section of The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, with the evocative reconstructions of the sets of Hogwarts and the Hogsmeade Village.
Here is an overview of the thematic areas into which the park is divided:
- Port of Entry
- Marvel Super Hero Island
- Show Lagoon
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong
- Jurassic Park
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade
- The Lost Continent
- Seuss Landing
Again we start with The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, the spearhead of all Universal Orlando, so much so that it is often considered a park in its own right. In this park, as I told you, we find attractions somehow complementary to those of Universal Studios Florida: if the other park focuses on Diagon Alley, here you have the opportunity to wander around Hogsmeade, drinking a Butterbeer under the towers of Hogwarts Castle… a real blow to the heart for anyone who loved Harry Potter books and films.
Two attractions are worth mentioning: the interactive dark ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, unmissable starting from the area where you start to queue (you will walk inside the Hogwarts castle seeing the paintings talking), and Flight of the Hippogriff, a quiet carousel suitable even for the little ones. During the time I visited the park they were also building a new carousel, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, a roller coaster through the woods of Hogwarts.
Among other attractions, the traditional, must-see escape from the t-rex's deserves a mention Jurassic Park River Adventure, a water-ride with a precise indication of danger-clothes-wet (You'll Get Wet, and it's not a random warning, you really get wet!), exactly like the carousel dedicated to Popeye (Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges). On the 3d side, feel the attraction The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, great three-dimensional dark ride that will take your breath away, but not as much as the roller coasters of The Incredible Hulk or the tower of Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, not recommended for the faint of heart. For the little ones, there is the kid area Seuss Landing, in particular the visionary and imaginative dark ride The Cat In The Hat.
As in the case of Universal Studios Florida, there are not only rides and water games, but also shows inspired by the world of cinema: for example Raptor Encounter, to meet a Velociraptor up close, The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle, a light and music show at the famous Harry Potter castle, and Poseidon’s Fury, where a guided tour of the ancient temple of Poseidon awaits you, needless to say that the tour will soon turn into an adventure!
Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure?
So which one to choose between the 2 parks? The truth is that these are essentially similar parks, conceived as an extension of the other rather than in opposition. This means that missing one will inevitably leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. If you can, therefore, visit them both. If, on the other hand, you are forced to choose, here are some small differences to take into account:
- Unlike Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure boasts 2 water rides (Jurassic Park and Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls)
- As for the thematic areas of Harry Potter, in my opinion, that of Universal Studios (Diagon Alley) can boast a much more suggestive reconstruction but the carousel of Islands of Adventure (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey) is perhaps slightly better
- If you are fond of high adrenaline rides Islands of Adventure offers a little more (The Incredible Hulk and Doctor Doom's Fearfall vs Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit)
How to skip the lines at attractions?
With the pass Universal express you can skip the queues at all attractions only once, while with theUnlimited Express you can do it as many times as you want. This in practice does not mean that you will not have to queue, as like you many others will have the same pass, but you can still join the express queue, the fastest one, which, if you visit the park on weekends or on a day of high turnout, it will make the difference: the queues are long and for the most popular rides they can even exceed the waiting time, I visited the park on Saturday in high season and I never waited more than a quarter of an hour, even in the Harry Potter laughs, which are the most crowded.
How many days to visit Universal Orlando?
You can invest 2 days to visit Universal Orlando, possibly dedicating 1 day to each of the two parks with the ticket 2-Park 2-Day, or visit all 2 parks in 1 day with the Universal Express pass. If you are only interested in the Harry Potter themed attractions the advice is to do the ticket from 2 parks in 1 day, which will still allow you a visit without regrets. Unfortunately, since The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter is distributed over 2 parks, it is not possible to have a complete experience by visiting only 1: to understand the differences and advantages of the double ticket, I refer you to our in-depth study on how to choose between Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley.
Warning! If you find tickets that include admission to 3 historic houses parks, it is because the offer also includes admission to the water park Volcano bay, opened in 2017.
Universal Orlando tickets: how to choose them?
You can buy tickets on site, but you risk getting lost in long lines and wasting precious time. That's why it's a good idea to take precautions and buy your Universal Orlando tickets in advance. There are various types: entrances daily for individual parks (Base Ticket), cumulative tickets Park to Park to visit both sections of Universal Studios Orlando, entrance fees for more days for individual parks and for park to park, VIP entrances and many others. Below I point out 2 links (one in Spanish and one in English) that collect the main types of tickets from which you can choose:
- 1-Park 1-Day Base Ticket: to enter a single park during the day.
- 2-Park 2/3/4/5 Day Base Ticket: you can enter for 2, 3, 4 or 5 days (within a week) in both parks, but you can only visit one park per day. For example, by purchasing a 2-Park 3 Day Base Ticket, you can visit Universal Studios Florida on day one, Island of Adventures on day two, Universal Studios Florida on day three, and so on.
- 2-Park 1-Day Park-to-Park Ticket: will allow you to enter both the parks throughout the day
- 2-Park 2/3/4/5 -Day Park to Park Ticket: the mode park to park just illustrated is also available for 2, 3, 4, 5 days within a week.
Where to look for Universal Orlando tickets:
- 1 day tickets on Klook
- Multi-day tickets on Klook
- Various tickets on Best of Orlando
How to visit Universal Orlando from Miami?
Of course, you can move around easily from Miami to Orlando by car (here is a guide on how to rent a car in Miami), however, in cases where your vacation does not involve traveling by car, it may be useful to know that there are tickets that include transport. Here are 2 possibilities:
- Full-day admission with transport from Miami on Viator (also applies to SeaWorld)
Universal Orlando: where to sleep?
For a total experience, ranging from morning to nightlife to pillow comfort, you can choose one of the various resorts within the park, which can provide some great benefits ahead of visiting Universal Orlando, including theExpress pass free, to skip the queues of some attractions, and the aforementioned shuttle to reach the park. I point out the various options:
- Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort: in addition to the very high level of the structure, well connected to the two parks, those who stay here can get entry to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter 1 hour before opening.
- Universal's Loews Portofino Bay Hotel: another top level resort, but in a Mediterranean style… who wouldn't want to find one Portofino a stone's throw from Universal Studios? Those who choose this resort can take advantage of many advantages for visiting the park: the Express Pass, transport to the parks and early entry to Wizarding World.
- Universal's Loews Royal Pacific Resort: are we or are we not in Florida? Here is a structure with finishes, internal and external environments in tropical style… There is also a lagoon-swimming pool! Here, too, you get early entry into Harry's world and other perks.
- Universal's Loews Sapphire Falls Resort: as the name of the resort suggests, here the classic tropical dream setting is completed with a swimming pool equipped with waterfalls. Early entry to the park.
- Universal's Hard Rock Hotel: The famous Hard Rock brand has its place of honor within Universal Studios Orlando. In addition to the impeccable and fascinating quality of the structure, you can take advantage of a water taxi to reach the CityWalk.
If you don't want to stay overnight in the park and need cheaper accommodation, you can look for your hotel near Universal Studios. On the International Drive and nearby there are numerous possibilities also a good price; I stayed overnight at The Point Hotel, which has shuttle service, breakfast and swimming pool, good value for money, especially given the proximity to the park; for other solutions in the area take a look at the link below:
List of cheap hotels near Universal Orlando
Finally, at the link below you will find some more in-depth tips for choosing a hotel in Orlando: there are many options available and if you prefer to find accommodation in Downtown Orlando, know that it is just 10 miles from Universal Studios.
Advice on where to sleep in Orlando